Interior. Leather Bar.

Interior. Leather Bar. ★★★★

James Franco has taken an unnecessary drubbing by the press and the public since his disastrous co-emcee stint at the Oscars with Anne Hathaway and perhaps the only public image besides the work he does himself is of a putative megalomania that the press is tireless in presenting, but finally seeing Interior: Leather Bar, I feel that he's gotten a lot of useless shade thrown his way and that he's really a serious artist at work in many media but cinema is the one that's central to the way he best expresses himself. After having made a film on the final day Sal Mineo spent alive (Sal) he turned to make this. This film purports to be a recreation of the 40 minutes that had to be excised from the original William Friedkin film Cruising before the censors would allow it to be shown. Since that footage doesn't seem to be around anymore, Franco attacks the project as a concept/performance piece, using the actual images of the film and the promotion for the film to give us a simulation in much the same way that Andy Warhol might have given us the traces of someone else's photograph and then embellished it with his own blotches of color to "re-purpose" the image. So the film, besides being this imaginary recreation, is a back stage discussion among the actors chosen to participate in it with each other and with the two directors and the producers of why they're doing it; what specters it raises for them; what their limits are as far as what they're willing to do -- since the original lost minutes might have had hard core sex in them. In the three decades since 1980's Cruising this is a crossover which, it should be pointed out, has subsequently been breeched. Many European and some American films routinely include actual representations of sex in their films. Franco throws out his rationale for wanting to make the film, something about questioning the tyranny of the normative and whether, by assimilating the gay community the mainstream is robbing the power and appeal of its radicality which is being sacrificed in the process. Some of this has come from the influence of his professor, Michael Warner, at Yale, one of the most astute theorizers of gender sociologically from academe but the other part of it must come from James Franco's own fascination with this sexual minority, which he has fearlessly visited over and over again in his film roles in spite of what the public might think as if the aura it produces leaves him with a bit of envy. In any case, he's done more to keep the discussion and the dialogue about homosexuality and its representations (not to mention sexuality itself) alive than any other heterosexual actor out there, but he manages to do it here in a way that attracts/repulses in the same way that a fatal car accident does. After all, sado/masochism ultimately says something alarming about desire. You want to look away but you can't. It's like the gaze of the gargoyle that he and we are all staring at wondering what we can make of it, if anything at all, but somehow glad that it's there nonetheless.

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